What does it mean to be a Chef?

Posted by admin on September 26, 2012

A chef is an artist, and an alchemist.

A chef is an artist, and an alchemist.

Every time I meet someone new, every time I’m interviewed, the question comes up:

What’s it like being a Chef?

I wish there was a straight answer for that one!  Being a Chef is a lot of things.  It should be the culmination of a lot of learning, practicing, and yearning.  It most certainly changes your life.  There is always that sweet, sweet moment when you realize there are no more holidays or weekends in your future!  And then, of course, there’s the commitment to a lifetime of continued education. 

I guess I should try to answer this question first by addressing the qualities I believe every Chef should have.

Let’s start with the practicalities.  A chef needs to be in tune with all five senses, but especially, with his/her sense of smell and taste.  There’s no way you can put good food on the table if you cannot tell whether it smells like fresh fish of downright fishy.

Another practical aspect of this business is the need for knowledge.  You have to study.  Just knowing how to cook is not enough.  And let’s skirt around the subject of cooks who think they are Chefs for the time being – I need another post for that one.  There’s a world of culinary information out there and there’s no other way to acquire the knowledge: you need to go to culinary school.  There, hopefully, you will end up knowing the proper techniques, the science, and the art needed to prepare the perfect dish.

You also need experience.  Lots of it.  And be ready to prove yourself through blood, sweat, and tears – literally.  Having a shift at your uncle’s bistro for a few months doesn’t count.  You need to find a mentor, and be an apprentice (no pay) for a while.  You need to work in little restaurants, big restaurants, formal and informal settings, hotels, banquet halls, you name it!  You also need to work different positions in the kitchen: no Chef started as a Sous Chef.  We all did prep at some point in time, and washed dishes, and chucked oysters, and peeled potatoes...

If after all of this you feel you have a genuine interest in the culinary arts, and you are ready to dedicate your life to be a Chef full time, then you should work on your management and administrative skills.  Yes.  There is math in a Chef’s future.  The goal of every Chef is to run his/her own restaurant, or banquet’s hall, or food & beverage department.  To do this correctly, you need to have more skills than merely being able to balance a checkbook.

A lot of you are thinking: What about the passion? The love for the ingredients? The pride?

And I say: What about it? If you do everything I’ve said, and follow every step I’ve outlined, you HAVE to be passionate about food, the profession, and the art!  There’s no way on earth you could survive otherwise!

One thing I want to make absolutely clear.  Being proud to wear a Chef’s coat goes hand in hand with having respect for what makes it possible: the ingredients, the workspace, your co-workers and your colleagues.  If the respect is not there, you don’t deserve the Chef’s coat.

Are you scared yet? You should be! This is not an easy life! It requires lots of hard work, long hours, dedication, discipline, consistency, knowledge about food safety and nutrition, good judgment, leadership skills, and common sense.

So, why do we do it? For the rewards: The first time you put on your brand new Chef’s coat with your own restaurant’s logo on it.  That moment when you realize you ARE an artist, and an alchemist!  Knowing you have the power to transform the ordinary into the sublime.  The look of awe and respect from a colleague when they try one of your dishes.  The look of awe and wonder in a grandmother’s face when you recreate one of her dishes to perfection.  And so many more...

In the end, what does it mean to be a Chef? It means your whole existence can be described as the few seconds it takes for a satisfied dinner guest to say: Wow! Thank You!


Chef Marisoll © 2018